By Sara Aoyama
The idea that the dojo should function as a kind of extended family
was one of the easier ideas in martial arts for me to buy into. And
for someone like me, with no family in the local area, it is an added
benefit. Recently I had a chance to see the dojo family philosophy in
It was a Sunday night. I pulled into my driveway, parked, and walked
around the back of the car to go inside the house. As I walked past
the back of the car, I thought I saw something small lying on the ground.
It was too dark to see clearly, and I instinctively backed off not wanting
to think I'd hit an animal in my own driveway. After getting the kids
inside the house, I turned on the driveway light. We all looked. Indeed
something was lying there. It looked bigger than a squirrel, but didn't
seem to be a cat, thank goodness. I knew I had to go outside and take
a closer look. But, I was suddenly finding that practicing martial arts
had not as yet given me any courage to deal with a situation like this.
So, I called a friend to borrow her husband. Yes, I really did. But
he was sick. She suggested that I call the police. I thought that was
a great idea, but the dispatcher explained that this was out of their
realm, and that the animal officer was unavailable on Sunday nights.
I definitely wanted the animal out of my driveway before daylight and
the Monday morning carpool. I looked out the window again, hoping that
the animal had just been stunned and had gotten up and left while I
was on the phone. No such luck. Considering my very limited options,
I decided to call the person I thought I could depend on. I casually
said to the kids,
"I'm going to call Sensei."
My son was immediately horrified and said, "You can't call Sensei!
He's a vegetarian!!"
"Well, I'm not going to make him eat it," I muttered defensively,
and picked up the phone.
Unfortunately Sensei was not in. I left a polite phone message saying
that I had an unusual matter that I needed his assistance with.
Half an hour later, the phone rang. I picked it up, expecting it to
be Sensei, but instead it was Sempai Matt. He wanted to talk about the
dojo schedule. I had other things on my mind and suggested that he come
over to my house to talk. It was about 9:30 and Matt, a young college
student, was suspicious about why I didn't want to talk on the phone.
I had a bet with myself that Matt was from a hunting family and could
handle this. I explained the situation, and casually mentioned that
I'd already called Sensei for help. Matt was just as horrified as my
son and said, "You can't ask Sensei that! I'll be right over."
Just the response I'd hoped for, and I grinned in relief as I hung up
Matt arrived, and we went out to the driveway. There is safety in numbers!
He took a look and announced that it seemed to be an opossum. I asked
hopefully, "Are you sure it is dead? Maybe it's just playing dead?"
For that I got a withering look and a comment about blood coming out
of the head. With very minimal assistance from me, Matt took care of
the problem. We went inside just as the phone rang. Sure enough it was
Sensei, speaking in his most concerned and caring voice, "Hi, Sara,
I got your message. How can I help you?"
With all my nervous tension now gone, that was enough to send me into
a burst of laughter, and I didn't think Sensei needed to know the situation.
So I just said that Matt and I had a question about the schedule and
I handed the phone off to Matt, no doubt leaving my Sensei in extreme
doubts about the sanity of his eldest student!
In the middle of the night, though, I started feeling guilty, and sent
off the following e-mail to Sensei.
I just wanted to tell you that Matt is really a great dojo brother
to me! Tonight, I was driving home with my parents and kids around
8 pm, and when I got out of the car and walked around it, there was
an animal lying there. It was too dark to see clearly, but it scared
the heck out of me, and we are all really squeamish. After nobody
else could help me, I said to the kids that I was going to call you
and see if you would help. Both of my kids were really aghast and
said I could not call you, but I figured I could. Then when my phone
rang I thought it was you... but it was Matt. So I told him I had
this problem, and he was very willing to come over and deal with it,
even though it was late at night.
Not that he wasn't laughing at me, but I admit I am very squeamish
about blood and dead animals. I also wasn't even sure what it was
and didn't want to look too closely. But I went out and looked with
Matt and we think it was an opossum. I don't know why an opossum would
be in my driveway of all places. So, Matt kindly helped me dispose
of it, but of course was laughing at how squeamish I was.
Well, it is good to know that I can call on Matt for strange things
that I really would not care to handle (but would have if I had to).
I don't feel good that I killed an animal, but I think I just won't
go there and try to forget about it.
And Sensei replied:
"Hello Sara ,
Of course you can call me for anything. I may be so bold to say you
could call most, if not all, green and brown belts to help you. At
least I would hope so. That's what a dojo is about. We are a family.
Sorry about the dead animal. What can you do? You did not mean it.
I will touch base with you tomorrow.
Phew! So that's my new definition of dojo family--the people who will
come help you with the dead opossums in your driveway.
Sara Aoyama (aka the Opossum Killer)
About The Author
Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she
majored in Japanese Language and Literature. She spent more than twelve
years living in Japan where she dabbled in a number of other Arts such
as Ikebana (flower arranging), Cooking, and Shamisen. While living in
Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects of Japanese society.
Currently she lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she started training
in Shorin-ryu Karate at the Brattleboro School of Budo in May, 1998
after watching her son train for three years. She works as a free-lance
Japanese-English translator. Most recently, she is the translator of
"The Art of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD.